No doubt Mountain Bikes are the costliest item to buy on associated with Mountain Biking. When looking for a good deal, you couldn’t help but notice a significant difference in the price of mountain bikes.
The difference in their price is sometimes so huge you might wonder, what’s the difference between a cheap and an expensive mountain bike? Are budget bikes worth it and when should we buy one!
The biggest difference between a $ 700-$1800 budget mountain bike and a $4000-$12000 expensive MTB is their build quality and performance efficiency.
Ask any bike shop or a rider and they will tell you to stay away from budget or cheap mountain bikes. While their concerns are somewhat rational its not always the case especially when you just getting started.
If the question is: are budget mountain bikes worth it?
The answer is no if you want to seriously get into the hobby of serious mountain biking. Cheaper mountain bikes won’t offer the same level of stability and safety required to take you on truly rough terrain.
Affordable mountain bike options can be nice if you want to go down a local trial or ride around your neighborhood, but you could be putting yourself in danger during more serious off-roading ventures.
This doesn’t mean that there’s never a good situation where you can search for a lower price point on a mountain bike. If you plan on casually exploring the hobby and are just getting started, then keeping costs low and searching for a beginner’s bike is fine.
Table of Contents
- Why Most Mountain Bikes Are Expensive
- Are Cheap Mountain Bikes Worth It?
- Pros and Cons of Buying Budget Mountain Bikes
- When It’s Okay To Buy A Budget Mountain Bike
- Budget Mountain Bikes: What Do They lack?
- When It’s Not Worth It To Buy Cheaper Mountain Bikes
- What To Look in a Budget Mountain Bike
- Budget Mountain Bikes Can Still Be Fun!
Why Most Mountain Bikes Are Expensive
It can feel insane comparing the cost of a high-quality mountain bike to the average bike. The best of the best can easily range into the five-figure category, and that can be intimidating.
While most folks won’t have to put that much cash out front to get into mountain biking, the reason why prices range so high is the quality of the parts required to weather truly harsh terrain.
Nearly every single part of a standard bike needs to be upgraded and tuned to fit the needs of harsh terrains. That means more complex and often bigger parts are often necessary.
The frame is often the most expensive part of the bike. Carbon Fiber is probably the most effective material for weathering the strain of mountain trail conditions and that alone will fetch you a pretty penny.
Steel, titanium, and aluminum are also used as building materials in mountain bike frames and each comes with its own ups and downs. The wheels on mountain bikes also take up a huge part of the cost.
The thread count of the rubber and the size of the wheels themselves are both critical to maintaining a solid grip on the road and keeping you stable.
The components required to design these parts are expensive and often labor-intensive to assemble so costs add up quickly when you’re trying to assemble a solid bike.
Are Cheap Mountain Bikes Worth It?
Affordable or cheap mountain bikes are definitely worth it if you stay within the bounds of casual biking. If you want to take your bike through a dirt path near your neighborhood then that’s fine.
Most mountain bikes come with bigger wheels that work well off-road regardless of cost.
You can bike up and down small hills and through the woods without a problem, but taking a bike made with cheaper components on a serious biking endeavor can be an obstruction and even dangerous to you.
Mountain bikes are designed to be able to haul you up steep inclines and to prevent crashes and stoppages while cruising on rough roads.
The consequences of venturing onto mountain paths without the right bike could mean your trip turning into a bust early on when you encounter a hill your bike can’t clime.
Worse, it could mean getting into an accident and hurting yourself because your bike wasn’t prepared to handle all of the bumps and ditches that come with untamed road.
Affordable mountain bikes good for riding through friendly neighborhood, light trails and parks. They really shines in beginners mountain bike trails where the slope is less steep or challenging.
Pros and Cons of Buying Budget Mountain Bikes
Pros of Buying Budget Mountain Bikes
- A casual experience: Mountain bikes are perfectly fine on the lower end if you just want to ride one around town. They’re actually a great option in this instance as it’s the overall safer choice compared to the hybrid or commuter bikes that you might see around town as they’re better equipped to handle any unexpected bumps in the road or around your local park.
- Beginners friendly: Budget mountain bikes really shines on beginner friendly mountain bike trails. There are plenty of trails that are designed for folks who are just starting to get into mountain biking and those paths won’t offer obstacles that are so severe that a less expensive bike won’t be able to handle it.
- Great for kids: A lot of kids don’t like to stick to the road while they’re out on their bikes, and this can lead to a lot of accidents. Mountain bikes are a good choice here for younger kids who like to ride bikes since they won’t fall off their bikes when they hit rough terrain. Grass particularly isn’t a problem here, so no kid riding their bike off the sidewalk and onto the grass won’t brake hard and fly off their bike.
- Fit in your budget: The best part part about these bikes is that they are …. much cheaper. If you are within a $1000 budget, you can easily buy a cheap mountain bike that will do the job. In most cases they won’t feel much of a difference and often better for learners.
Cons of Buying Budget Mountain Bikes
- It can be dangerous: Not all budget mountain bikes are safe specially those below $600. The entire purpose of a mountain bike is to keep you safe and comfortable as you take on off-road challenges. If the bike that you’re looking at can’t do that, then you shouldn’t be riding.
- Not fit for more serious trails: Budget mountain bikes are not meant for serious trails or competitions. You may find them hard to use on the toughest of trails. Even worse, on a higher-end trail, you can potentially hurt yourself or even break a bone rolling down an incline that your bike couldn’t handle. Getting into mountain biking is a serious endeavor and you have to have the right equipment or you’ll be putting yourself at risk.
- Extended rides: Even if you don’t plan on taking your bike on serious hikes, you will still need a solid machine if you just plan on riding it often. Cheaper bikes don’t have a lot of staying power and won’t last long if you want to ride them every single day or as a source of regular exercise. Tires with a low thread count will break on you when you least expect it, and falls are going to leave heavier dings than you expected.
- Not Great for Upgrades: Other than safety issues if you are planning to make upgrades to your mountain bike in future, i would strongly suggest to not buy a budget mountain bike. They simply aren’t great for upgrades!
When It’s Okay To Buy A Budget Mountain Bike
At the end of the day, a cheap mountain bike works just fine for normal riding. If you ride for exercise and sometimes go off-road on your regular routine.
Then you don’t need to worry about spending a lot of money on a top-of-the-line new mountain bike.
If you’re new to mountain biking as well and just want to dip your toes, maybe try out some beginner trails, a cheaper bike will suffice.
They also are a good choice if warranties and brands aren’t something that you care about. A brand and warranty is a guarantee of a certain level of quality and insurance.
If you don’t care much for either of those things then you can find a bike that might be cheaper but still up to stuff.
You may lose some performance on your bike if you choose this route, but if you don’t care about picking the most optimal ride, then you shouldn’t worry about that.
You care less about brands and warranties
Brand-name bikes will always be at the cutting edge of biking technology. You can expect the highest quality materials, and to pay even more money for the security that their name brings.
Not everyone cares about that however and paying extra for a brand-name bike simply because it has that status associated with it doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense.
Rather than trusting the name on a bike, it’s perfectly valid to do the research on your own and find which bike brings the most value to you for its price point.
The same is true for warranties on a certain level. A warranty is a guarantee that your money won’t go to waste if your bike breaks on you for one reason or another.
If you’re the kind of person who knows how to take care of their ride however then you don’t have to waste money on a warranty that will never come in handy.
You are just getting into mountain biking
When you first get into mountain biking, you don’t know if your interest will turn into a passion or not. When that’s the case, there’s no reason to go all out on a high-end bike when you don’t know if you’re going to be using it very often.
A cheaper bike can still manage the low-danger roads of beginner mountain biking trails and you can use them as a platform to get used to the trials of mountain biking before you decide to upgrade.
In fact I personally find them better for learners, who like to ride them anywhere from trails to local park or your neighborhood. If you need a bike that fits both as a commuter and mountain biking; buy a budget mountain bike.
Buying a mountain bike for your kid
In the case of buying your kid a bike, a cheap mountain bike is actually one of the superior choices.
Kids don’t always stay on the sidewalk like they’re supposed to and a mountain bike will help ensure that you don’t end up with any scrapes and bruises when they go off the beaten path.
The larger tires of mountain bikes will also help with traction and make it easier for kids who are just getting used to riding bikes to maintain their balance.
Recreational and moderate trails
As said before, cheaper mountain bikes are fine for recreation and moderate trails.
There’s no reason why you can’t stick to an inexpensive bike and not worry about upgrading if this is the kind of use that you have planned for your bike.
In fact, if this is where your interests like, then this bike is perfect for the long haul, and it shouldn’t ever be a problem for you. It is important however to make sure you regularly maintain and care for your bike.
It’s still susceptible to breakages, but a bit of love and attention a low-end bike can stay by your side for a long, long time.
You care less about efficiency of your bike
A lot of lower-end mountain bikes are going to come with standard bike parks and not the high-quality gear that comes on a brand-name bike.
What this means is that you’ll get standard breaks, less of an increase in tire size, and a regular suspension a lot of the time.
If you’re used to working with these kinds of bike parts and understand the limits of them then this shouldn’t be an issue for you, but it’s important to keep in mind what you’re missing as well.
Budget Mountain Bikes: What Do They lack?
Less expensive mountain bikes might seem like an appealing option, especially if you’re on a budget. At first glance, these bicycles might seem quite similar to their more expensive cousins.
When comparing them, however, it’s important to carefully look at the actual differences. Budget-oriented bikes are great for some riders, but they’re definitely very different from their more expensive cousins.
Parts & Components
Bikes are more than just frames and wheels. They’ve got shifters, derailleurs, cassettes, brakes, brake levers, seats, and chains – and more.
When you’re comparing a cheap bike to a more expensive one, these components and parts should be carefully compared and cross-checked to make sure you know what the differences are.
Having quality components can directly translate into a better riding experience. Better cassettes and drivetrains will transfer more of your pedaling power to the wheels, helping you be more efficient.
Better brakes will stop faster. Better derailleurs will keep your chain in good condition for longer and shift more snappily, allowing you to pedal the way you want at a moment’s notice.
Individually, the effect of these components might seem small, but when you spread them across a whole bike worth of parts you’ll quickly notice an inferior ride from some budget bikes.
One additional thing to consider is how you’d go about upgrading a bicycle.
Purchasing a bike with more expensive components might set you back more up front, but if your plan is to upgrade your parts in a couple of years, you might save money long-term.
By starting with the parts you’d purchase, you can enjoy riding on your bike right from the start.
Less Durable Frames
Frames are probably the most important part of any bicycle. While they might seem mundane, the difference between a cheap frame and a more expensive one is nothing to scoff at.
There are three big factors to consider when you’re looking at frames: durability, weight, and geometry. These three factors are intertwined, but it’s worth discussing them individually.
Bikes have to support the weight of you and anything else they’re carrying as you ride them. The pressure you exert on a bike isn’t constant. Instead, it goes up and down as you hit bumps, pedal, or (hopefully rarely) crash into things.
Your bike can also get banged around while it’s being transported or even bumped into while it’s stored. This means it’s important for bikes to have strong, sturdy frames.
Bike manufacturers can control all of the aspects of a frame. They can choose how strong to make it, what shape to make it in, and what material to make it out of.
The problem is maximizing all three elements at once. A bike with super-efficient frame geometry made out of material X will have a fixed amount of durability. In order to increase the durability, either the frame geometry or the material must be changed.
Budget bikes usually are made from cheap materials. These materials are heavy and need to be thick to be strong.
This means that cheap bikes tend to weigh more than expensive bikes, require less efficient frame geometry (because the material needs to be thicker), and often STILL aren’t as durable.
Consumers look at the weight of a bicycle before they buy it, so manufacturers will often cut corners and make their bikes less sturdy in order to cut weight.
Are Higher On Weight
As mentioned above, it’s not likely that your budget mountain bike has a carbon fiber or titanium frame. This means that for a given durability or frame geometry, it’ll weigh a decent amount more than a high-end bike.
Budget bikes often use cheaper alloys and less expensive manufacturing techniques, resulting in extra material being used to achieve the same result.
While it’s a giant factor, the weight of the frame isn’t the only thing that affects how much your bike weighs. Remember those components from earlier?
High-end components usually weigh a fair bit less than cheap ones. When combined with the extra weight of the frame, this means a cheap bike can be twice as heavy – or more – than an expensive one.
Less Efficient Frame Geometry
Building a frame is tricky. Building a frame with great geometry while using inexpensive materials and cheap manufacturing techniques is pretty darn hard.
Manufacturers have to make sacrifices in order to lower the cost of their budget bikes, and frame geometry is usually one of the first things to go.
Beyond the cost-cutting basics, however, consider the target audience of the bike. A bike that’s being sold at Walmart isn’t being marketed to a very savvy consumer base.
Terms like “head angle” or “reach” might as well be in a foreign language. Because of this, there’s not a lot of pressure on budget bike makers to get these crucial measurements correct or comfortable.
Consider also that mountain bikes usually aren’t test-ridden on an actual outdoor trail. This means that cheap bikes will have very odd frame geometry for technical riding.
Performance and Build Quality
Cheap bikes aren’t built to last. There’s no way to really mince words around this: a budget mountain bike usually won’t last you very long, while a nice bike might last you a decade or more.
In terms of rides per dollar, you’ll often be better off getting a more expensive bike.
Cheap bikes often have parts, components, and frames that are assembled cheaply with poor quality control, While this sometimes results in bikes that don’t work right the moment you buy them, in most cases, it’ll cause your bike to start to break after a couple of weeks, months, or years of use.
A cheap chain will slip off more easily and break sooner, while cheap brakes might have trouble staying aligned or wear down more quickly.
More expensive parts aren’t always more durable, but the most durable parts tend to be more expensive.
Support and Warranty
The price of an expensive bike can have guarantees, warranties, and incredible customer support built into it. A budget bike might not come with the same backing from the manufacturer.
While you can certainly find some protection available on some budget mountain bikes, you’re not necessarily going to be happy with the level of support you receive from every company.
If a bike tends to last 5 years in the wild, it’s very inexpensive for the manufacturer to offer a 2-year warranty. If a bike tends to start failing after two years, the same warranty becomes very costly to offer.
Consider the baseline warranty offered on different bikes you’re considering and think about what different levels of support might mean for both your peace of mind and the bike’s average longevity.
When It’s Not Worth It To Buy Cheaper Mountain Bikes
For Riding More Serious Trails
The more technical a trail is, the more demanding it is on your bicycle. Going over obstacles, having to brake hard, and weaving through very narrow rocks and trees can take a toll on a bike.
High-end mountain bikes are built to both survive the abuse and to have individual components replaced when they fail. A cheap bike won’t just fail more often, it’ll be a much bigger pain to fix when it does.
The other consideration here is the actual performance of the bicycle. A nice bike will have snappier responses to your controls. It’ll stop faster when you brake and go faster when you pedal.
You’ll be less tired due to being able to pedal more efficiently. Nice suspension can keep you comfortable without sacrificing a lot of pedaling power, too.
When Riding More Often
The more often you ride, the more wear you put on your parts. This means it’s more important to have a bike with durable, high-quality components.
Again, high-quality bikes usually have parts that can be repaired or replaced easily, while cheaper bikes might be harder to repair when things start to wear out.
The other thing to think about is how much enjoyment you get out of your bike.
The more you ride, the more you’ll get to enjoy having a nicer bike. If you’re just starting out on your biking journey, it’s totally fine to pick up a starter bike.
If you know you ride for a dozen hours every week, you probably want to get a nice bike. Rather than forcing yourself to experience mediocrity for those 12 hours, you can get the most out of a high-end bike during your frequent riding.
For More Enjoyable Mountain Biking Experience
Nice bikes aren’t just more durable and efficient than cheap ones, they’re also more fun. Better tuned frame geometry, snappier controls, and lighter frames mean that the bike will go where you want more easily.
This translates into a sense of freedom and confidence that can let you tackle more difficult trails or have more fun free styling on easy ones.
As mentioned above, the more you ride, the more important this factor is. If you spend a lot of time on the trails, consider getting a more expensive bike so you can get the most out of your trail time.
You don’t necessarily have to go all-out and buy a bike that costs more than a used car, but you should definitely think about getting something from the mid range category rather than a budget bike.
What To Look in a Budget Mountain Bike
If you do decide that a budget mountain bike is right for you, be sure to consider the factors above and get something that suits your riding needs while staying budget-friendly and durable.
Try to find a bike with a light, well-designed frame, upgradeable and repairable components, and less “stuff.” By avoiding pricey additions (like suspension), you can get a bit more bike for your money and keep your riding experience both cheap and enjoyable.
The biggest sign that you should skip a bike is the inclusion of off-brand or manufacturer’s brand components.
If the shifters, brake levers, or derailleur are made by the company that makes the bike, do some research and make sure that they’re also sold separately and found in bike shops in your area.
If they aren’t, they’ll likely be difficult to repair or replace if an issue arises. There are plenty of inexpensive, entry-level components made by all of the major brands.
If a manufacturer is putting their own brand of stuff on their bikes, it’s probably because they’re even cheaper and lower quality than the entry-level Shimano options.
Warranties are often a great sign that a bike is of reasonable quality. If the bike you’re looking at has a long, generous guarantee then the manufacturer is reasonably confident in their products.
Try to look for a reasonable warranty on your bikes and poke around and make sure the manufacturer honors their promises.
Finally, remember that you’re getting a budget bike. If you’re getting extras, like rear suspension, wireless shifters, or other expensive components, the cost of your bicycle will go up.
In order to fit these things on a budget bike, the manufacturer might be cutting costs in other areas. It’s a good idea to look for a bare-bones, basic mountain bike and upgrade it later.
This will ensure that most of your purchasing power goes to the frame, wheels, and basic components, giving you a solid foundation you can add things onto over time.
Budget Mountain Bikes Can Still Be Fun!
There’s nothing wrong with getting a budget bike, especially if you’re a new or less-frequent rider.
While your budget bike will probably be heavier than a pricier bike and won’t have all of the same bells and whistles, you can still have lots of fun tackling trails in a bike that’s well under $1000.
By choosing a durable bike with a good frame, you can gain a long-lasting platform that you can slowly upgrade with more expensive components.
After you’ve got some experience under your belt and you’ve saved a bit of money, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about what features and options you want in your next bike, allowing you to get the most out of your money and pick up the perfect bike for your body, riding style, and preferred trails.